The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that the deaths of dozens of young children in Gambia from acute kidney damage may be connected to contaminated cough and cold syrups supplied by an Indian medicine producer.
Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed the findings after testing different medical syrups suspected of causing 66 infant fatalities in the tiny West African nation.
Tedros told reporters that the United Nations agency was conducting an investigation with Indian regulators and the manufacturer of the syrups, Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd. of New Delhi.
Maiden Pharma declined to comment, and the Drugs Controller General of India did not respond to calls and mails. The Indian Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment.
Wednesday, the WHO issued a medical product warning requesting that regulators pull Maiden Pharma products from the market.
The WHO stated in its alert that the items may have been spread worldwide through informal markets, but had only been found in Gambia.
The alert pertains to four items, including Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup.
According to the WHO, laboratory investigation revealed “unacceptable” levels of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be poisonous and cause acute kidney impairment.
In July, medical professionals in Gambia raised the alarm after dozens of children began developing kidney problems. The fatalities puzzled doctors until a pattern emerged: Dozens of youngsters younger than five fell ill three to five days after swallowing a paracetamol syrup distributed locally.
The head of health services in the Gambia, Mustapha Bittaye, stated that similar issues were identified in other syrups, but the ministry is awaiting confirmation of the results.
According to him, the number of deaths has decreased in recent weeks, and the sale of items manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals has been prohibited. Until recently, he said, some of the syrups continued to be sold at private clinics and hospitals.
Tuesday, the Medicines Control Agency of Gambia delivered a letter to health practitioners directing them to stop selling any WHO-listed medications.
According to its website, Maiden Pharmaceuticals makes pharmaceuticals in India, which it then sells domestically and exports to nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.